The killer bird flu is not alone. It is just one of a vast number of potentially fatal health hazards lurking in Hong Kong. The food we eat, the air we breathe and the homes we live in all suffer the drastic effects of our environmental neglect. Now the tide is turning and the consequences of our actions are putting our own lives at risk. Vegetarians may have enjoyed a secret smirk at the plight of Hong Kong meat-eaters during the H5N1 outbreak, but the number of cases of vegetables contaminated by modern pesticides is rapidly increasing. Even our fish are toxic, a result of the poisonous wastes we pour into our waters. We are paying the high price of our use of chemicals such as pesticides, detergents and paints. Problems arising from such materials could be avoided if proper government guidelines were available. But tight enough controls are not yet in place for even the most hazardous of industrial substances. December's cyanide spill next to Kowloon Reservoirs was a potentially massive ecological disaster, prevented only because it was not raining that day. Any thoughts of escaping our harsh environment by sheltering in the safe confines of home can quickly be dismissed. Skycrapers house huge health risks such as poorly maintained air-conditioning systems that provide ideal breeding grounds for certain pathogens. Dangers even lurk in your furniture. Harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and benzene are released from many home furnishing materials. Granite, for example, can lead to an accumulation of carcinogenic radon gas. However, the SAR Government is failing to provide effective measures to safeguard residents. This lack of proper legislation extends to the illegal dumping of waste in Hong Kong. Substantial amounts of toxic materials are frequently discarded on our shores. If hazardous materials should be among them, the consequences could be disastrous. Does it really make sense to clean up after polluting, to remedy after destroying and to legislate after crisis, instead of introducing policies that consider quality of life in advance? We are living on a 'deferred payment plan', drawing resources from future generations and leaving them to clean up the costs. We have missed the obvious message that the planet cannot survive if we continue to live as we do now. The solution is for Hong Kong to accept the challenge of exploit natural resourcesbecoming more sustainable now. This need not be as difficult as it sounds. Most of the technology for living more cleanly and efficiently is already available in the developed world. Environmental time-bombs will keep ticking if we continue to exploit natural resources and recklessly pollute the environment. The answer is not to wait for another explosive public health crisis, but to take action now before a calamity happens. Friends of the Earth is a non-profit environmental organisation. For more information, call 2528-5588.